It is very quiet. Nothing moves. The precision of this highly fragile arrangement is breathtaking. It is the expression of a simple idea full of infinite variation. This is the most famous Zen garden in the world – Ryoan-ji.
There are no prescribed routes to follow, no obviously engineered views. The remarkably sparse planting opens a multitude of angles. Walking through the garden presents ever changing compositions of shapes, textures, colours. Every visitor is invited to find their own perspective.
I had been fascinated – and mystified – by Japanese gardens for as long as I could remember. Seeing them in person was going to be so exciting, but would I be able to comprehend them? My interest in the history of European gardens had taught me that cultural context was essential to their understanding. Japanese culture being so very different from European, I tried to acquire as much knowledge about it as possible prior to your trip.
Sibylle’s garden could easily fill the cover of an upmarket style magazine. She has created the most luxurious, harmoniously balanced scene. There are a few flowers here and there, but green is the predominant colour. From the lower perennials to the climbers and not least the leaves of the Gleditsia, all foliage looks like it has been meticulously painted with a very fine brush.
As I get a first look around the corner, I am stunned. Like a wide amphitheatre, a rock garden curves around a patio at the back of the house. A steep slope has been shaped into two massive terraces, their sides held by well placed boulders. This is a plant show of dramatic proportions.
“Houseplants are bought for aesthetic reasons, but then plastic flowers could have replaced them long ago,” reflects Thomas, “So there must be some reason why we think a real flower is more positive than a plastic flower.”
My garden had always felt magical, from the moment I first saw it in the company of the estate agent. But on those warm nights in high summer, with the added intrigue of the unexpectedly tall meadow, my garden seemed otherworldly.
I decided this grass mono-culture was where I would try to make a difference as a gardener. If I managed to diversify the planting in this area, it would create more beauty for my own enjoyment as well as more diverse habitats for wildlife. That would be the perfect balance of my needs and those of the ecosystem that was my garden.
In front of me was a meadow, maybe 200 square metres in size, with some ferns at the edges and two fruit trees in the middle. The meadow was surrounded by old brick walls, partly covered with ivy, and beyond them the trees of neighbouring gardens. The sun was shining, the air was full of birdsong, it was a paradise!